WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump blamed "blue states" for increasing the nation's death rate from coronavirus, suggesting that if "you take the blue states out" of the equation the United States would be far more competitive with other countries.
The claim drew a swift rebuke Thursday from Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who noted Trump is the president of all states.
Trump has long blamed Democratic leaders for a variety of ills, including "Democrat-run" cities where protests against police have occasionally turned violent. But his suggestion that states fared better or worse with the pandemic depending on their political persuasion was his most explicit effort yet to frame the handling of the virus in political terms.
The president's remarks came as his administration has faced questions about the death rate from the virus in the United States compared with other countries. The U.S. has experienced about 60 coronavirus deaths for every 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins data, among the highest rates in the world.
Trump has focused instead on the case fatality rate – the number of people who have died after contracting the virus – a metric in which the U.S. fares far better.
Speaking to reporters at the White House late Wednesday, Trump argued the United States is handling the virus well "despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates.
"If you take the blue states out," he continued, "we're at a level that I don't think anybody in the world would be at. We're really at a very low level but some of the states – they were blue states, and blue-state managed."
New York, California, and New Jersey – all blue states in presidential elections – were among the states with the highest number of deaths from coronavirus. But they are also the states with the largest populations in the country, and they were the first to experience and tackle major outbreaks of the disease.
Other states with a high number of deaths include Texas, a red state, and Florida, a battleground. Those states are also among the nation's most populous.
The picture is slightly different when normalized for population: New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts had among the highest death rates per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. But red states and battlegrounds, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Michigan were also in the top ten.
Overall, states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 have experienced nearly 105,000 deaths from coronavirus so far, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the Hopkins data – about 74 deaths per 100,000 people. States that voted for Trump have experienced more than 91,000 deaths, roughly 50 per 100,000.
Democrats slammed Trump's notion of blaming the nation's death on Democratic leaders.
"The job is to be president of all Americans," Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted at Trump on Thursday. "For the love of God start acting like it."
"Yes, Mr. President, if you don't count the total number of Americans who have died, you might think it's not so bad," Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Trump did not offer evidence to back up his insinuation that blue states handled the virus differently than red states, though he has had longstanding quarrels with Democratic governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California. At times he has said those governors overreacted to the virus, imposing strict lockdown orders; at other times he has praised their responses.
Minutes after suggesting Democratic-run states didn't do enough to contain the virus, he blasted them for not lifting coronavirus restrictions more quickly.
"By the way, we'd recommend they open up their states," Trump said. "It's hurting people far more than the disease itself."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump blames blue states for COVID-19 death rates